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Officers and Officer Assistants

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Who They Are

U.S. probation and pretrial services officers and officer assistants are

  • U.S. district court employees. They provide services that protect the community and help the federal courts ensure the fair administration of justice.
  • Federal law enforcement officers. They hold the responsibility to investigate and supervise persons charged with and convicted of crimes against the United States.

  • What They Do

Contribute to the justice process

    Pretrial services officers

    • Work with defendants "pre-trial," after they're charged with federal crimes and while they're awaiting trial.
    • Help ensure that defendants released to the community before trial commit no crime while awaiting trial and return to court as required.

    Probation officers

    • Work with offenders "post-conviction," after they're tried and found guilty of federal crimes and after they're released from prison.
    • Help ensure that offenders released to the community obey the law rather than commit further crimes.

    Officer assistants

    • Help probation and pretrial services officers carry out investigation and supervision duties, providing assistance and technical support in a wide range of areas.
    • Perform such tasks as gathering information, preparing reports, and drafting correspondence related to cases.
    • Supervise low-risk defendants and offenders, performing some of the same duties as officers, only under closer supervision.

Conduct investigations for the court

    Officers investigate defendants and offenders for the court by gathering and verifying information about them. Investigations include

    • interviews with defendants and offenders to find out about their backgrounds, including family, education, employment, finances, physical and mental health, and alcohol or drug abuse.
    • criminal history record checks.
    • interviews with other people who can provide helpful information, such as family members, employers, and law enforcement officials.
    • reviews of records, such as court records, school records, military records, financial records, and employment records.

    The pretrial services investigation

    • is conducted before a person's initial appearance in court.
    • presumes the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. The officer doesn't discuss the alleged offense or the defendant's guilt or innocence during the interview, or give the defendant legal advice or recommend an attorney.

    The presentence investigation

    • is conducted when a person enters a guilty plea or receives a guilty verdict following a trial.
    • requires the officer to assess the offender's living conditions, family relationships, community ties, and drug use.

Prepare reports for the court

    Based on their investigations, officers prepare reports that the court relies on to make informed release decisions and choose fair sentences.

    The pretrial services report

    • recommends whether to release or detain the defendant before trial.
    • addresses whether the defendant is likely to stay out of trouble and return to court as required.
    • recommends release conditions for the court to impose if the defendant is released rather than detained. These must be the least restrictive conditions that will reasonably assure that the defendant appears in court and poses no danger to the community. Release conditions are tailored to the individual. For example, they may require that the defendant get drug testing and treatment, find and keep a job, or be placed on location monitoring.

    The presentence report

    • recommends sentencing options under the federal sentencing guidelines.
    • addresses the offense's impact on the victim and the offender's ability to pay fines and restitution.
    • recommends release conditions for the court to impose to help structure the offender's movement and behavior in the community. Release conditions are tailored to the individual. For example, they may require that the offender get drug testing and treatment, find and keep a job, or be placed on location monitoring.

Supervise defendants and offenders in the community

    Officers supervise defendants and offenders in the community to reduce the risk they pose to the public. Pretrial services officers supervise defendants released pending trial. Probation officers supervise offenders who are sentenced to a term of probation by the court or who are on parole or supervised release after they're released from prison. In supervising defendants and offenders, officers

    • make sure they comply with the release conditions set by the court and address any issues that affect their ability to comply.
    • monitor them through phone calls and personal contacts, including meeting with them in the probation or pretrial services office and at their homes or jobs.
    • monitor them through contacting others, including family members, employers, and treatment providers.
    • direct them to services to help them – such as substance abuse or mental health treatment, medical care, training, or employment assistance – as ordered by the court.
    • manage any risk they pose to individuals or the community by verifying their employment, monitoring their associates, restricting their travel, and taking other actions to make sure they're obeying the law.

  • What Professional Standards Apply to Them

Officers and officer assistants do a job that presents unique demands and challenges. They work every day with people who may pose a threat to the community and to the officers and officer assistants themselves. They have access to confidential, sensitive, and private information. Officers also may carry firearms on duty in some districts. Officers and officer assistants must accept the seriousness of their responsibilities and carry out their duties with integrity. They also must be able to perform essential job functions that are critical to the safe and effective performance of the job. Officer and Officer Assistant Essential Job Functions

To help ensure that persons who apply for judiciary law enforcement positions and individuals already performing the job are fit to serve, the U.S. probation and pretrial services system has put in place professional standards. These include

  • background investigations for job applicants as a pre-employment condition. Also, individuals who are on the job must undergo 5-year reinvestigations.
  • workplace drug testing for job applicants as a pre-employment condition. Also, individuals who are on the job are subject to random and reasonable suspicion workplace drug tests, which are conducted to enforce zero tolerance for any use of illegal drugs. 
  • medical standards for job applicants as a pre-employment condition. Also, individuals who are on the job may be subject to medical assessment as a condition of continued employment.  Officer and Officer Assistant Medical Requirements

  • How They Are Trained

Officers receive training on the job in their districts and may receive training from training programs offered nationally. Training begins when an officer is hired and continues throughout the officer's career. Training teaches new officers how to handle their responsibilities, enhances the skills of seasoned and supervising officers, and allows specialists to develop expertise in certain areas.

Federal Probation and Pretrial Services Training Academy

The Federal Probation and Pretrial Services Training Academy, located at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Charleston, South Carolina, provides:

  • New officer orientation. The six-week program features instruction on how to safely perform all investigation and supervision responsibilities.
  • Firearms and safety instructor training. The training prepares officers to serve as firearms and safety instructors in their districts.

  • Federal Judicial Center

The Federal Judicial Center, the Judiciary's research and education agency, develops training programs geared specifically to probation and pretrial services officers. The Center offers:

  • Seminars and workshops
  • In-person and on-line conferences
  • Satellite TV broadcasts
  • Leadership and new supervisor programs

  • On the Job

Every officer receives training in the court in which he or she works. Training is in many areas, including:

  • Investigation
  • Report writing
  • Substance abuse and mental health treatment
  • Firearms and safety
  • Other areas that the chief finds appropriate, ranging from CPR, to diversity, to budgeting and contact administration, to retirement planning